Alevo has joined the ranks of bankrupt battery manufacturers.
The company set up shop in a spacious former Philip Morris cigarette factory outside of Charlotte, North Carolina, to produce utility-scale GridBank battery systems. Persistent production challenges led to "insufficient revenue," the company said in a statement.
Alevo finished its first commercial unit in January for deployment in Hagerstown, Maryland. It originally had planned to produce 200 megawatts by the end of 2015.
"The Alevo entities have actively sought new funding sources to finance their operations and growth strategies," the statement said. "Unfortunately, despite best efforts, the funding has not been realized in time to permit continued operations."
The company is the latest in a series of energy storage startups to run out of cash before they achieved sustainable revenue. Saltwater battery maker Aquion suffered a similar fate in March, even after outfitting its own factory in Pennsylvania to better control production costs.
Alevo will lay off 245 workers from its North Carolina factory Friday, with another 45 to leave at the end of September, The Charlotte Observer reported. The company plans to liquidate its assets.
In October 2014, Alevo unstealthed with claims of a new lithium-ion battery that could beat the competition in grid applications. As GTM previously reported, Alevo claims its sulfur-based inorganic lithium-ion electrolyte chemistry has achieved 50,000 complete cycles without failure or loss of power density, while operating at close to room temperature.
The system passed a suite of performance testing by Parker Hannifin in January.
The company had two primary challenges: to bring an exotic new chemistry into production, and to own and develop projects with said chemistry.
“Rather than waiting for third-party sales to drive that volume cost reduction, we’re driving it ourselves,” Jeff Gates, Alevo’s vice president of operations, told GTM in 2015.
The vertically integrated approach saves the trouble of convincing established developers to take a chance on a new technology. It also forces the company to excel at two very different and challenging roles simultaneously. Commercializing a new storage technology is notoriously labor- and money-intensive, even without bankrolling the installations as well.
The technology had some upsides, on paper at least. Alevo chose its sulfur-based chemistry in part because of its relative abundance and protection from wide swings in commodity costs, compared to components in conventional lithium-ion. It also theoretically comes with longer and deeper cycle life and low overheating risk.
In choosing that kind of product, Alevo entered the battlefield of the lithium-ion alternatives, marked by numerous contestants and limited revenue opportunities.
Some, like Alevo and Ambri, have struggled to get their technology into commercial production on schedule. Flow battery companies ViZn, Vionx, UET and ESS have gotten a handful of initial demo projects installed, and are working on scaling up. Eos is in a similar position with its proprietary zinc-hybrid cathode battery.
Aquion passed that stage and achieved 250 deployments before it went bankrupt. The company recently emerged from bankruptcy under mysterious new management; its next steps are not clear. Fluidic Energy of Scottsdale, Arizona has fared better, raising $200 million and deploying 100,000 units of its zinc-air cathode in remote island and off-grid markets.
At the end of the day, there aren't many customers for grid-scale batteries, and there are even fewer looking for batteries that haven't been vetted by years of monitored operations in the field.
Those companies hope to capitalize on the value of long-duration storage, which lithium-ion is not well suited for. Alevo, though, was not chasing long durations to differentiate itself from the incumbent. Its core GridBank product comes in containerized 2-megawatt/1-megawatt-hour units.
Alevo was targeting the frequency regulation application, in which batteries provide and absorb electricity on a second-by-second basis to keep grid frequencies stable. PJM's frequency regulation market remains the largest storage market in the U.S., but rule changes this year decimated that market signal.
This story is developing. Stay tuned for more updates.